Describing the delightful feeling of riding a skateboard with some degree of control is like trying to describe why certain foods are so tasty — words just get in the way. Some of the more memorable skateboard videos released over the years come awfully close to expressing the joy of experience — usually by employing clever editing and invigorating music — but very few are able to eviscerate the soul of the act and shine a light on it.
Enter Strongest of the Strange, the debut film by professional skateboarder Pontus Alv. From the opening frames, it's clear the film is far from typical: Dressed in ill-fitting long underwear and a gas mask, Alv parades around a picnic table littered with wine bottles while the antiquated Yiddish ditty “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” plays. What unfurls is best described as a visual poem dedicated to skateboarding.
Set in Europe, San Francisco and Mongolia and shot in digital, VHS and Super 8, the film blends footage of men riding skateboards on city streets, inside concrete pipes and through skate parks with hypnotic images of smokestacks, skyscrapers, grandparents, fighter jets, wind machines, men in ski masks and children at play. Other distinctions include a fair amount of male nudity, a slew of European skaters and expatriate American skateboarder/author Scott Bourne setting his part to a Charles Bukowski reading.
The film also delves in to the realm of documentary — a later section tells the story of Savannah Side and Steppe Side, a pair of skate parks built by Alv and his friends in empty feilds using bricks, wood and cement.
This interview was conducted via email, from Alv's hometown of Malmo, Sweden.
Had you always wanted to make a movie? Pontus: Yes, it was my goal to at least once in my career make something that represents me as a skateboarder and my visions about skateboarding. I am pretty fed up with company videos just presenting riders and tricks to sell products. Their videos don't mean or say anything other than 'we have a great team with gnarly skaters'. That is very flat.
I think Strongest of the Strange represents the depth of skateboarding by also being about family and growing through experience. Pontus: Yes, I would say so as well. I mean skateboarding is not just a way to have fun with your friends and express yourself. Skateboarding is also a way to release all the things that life puts you through. Skateboarding helped me through a lot of shit and it was always there for me. We could always escape together into a world we know and love. I wanted to show all the little things about skateboarding that make it fun. [Most] videos today are too un-human. They make you feel like a piece of shit
The whole point of [SOTS] is to be inspiring. Go out and skate and create. Hit the streets, build a ghetto spot out of junk, build a bowl. skate everything and just have fun with your best friends. That is how I remember skateboarding before I got caught up with being a sponsored pro, and this is what I wanted to return to and recreate with myself and my friends.
You assembled a fucking amazing soundtrack (Roland Kirk, Sonic Youth, New Order, Django Reinhardt, Buzzcocks, Kal P Dal, Neil Young and more), did you have the songs you used in your head going in?
Pontus: Well, the only songs I had going in was the Joy Division. I love that band and I knew I was gonna skate to their music. The rest I picked from months of researching and trying things out. When you're editing you know when it is right. I can feel it if things are working out and if the music gives it the right rhythm and atmosphere. It is amazing when it works because when music and the moving images go hand-in-hand, like it goes on to another level: the third level that lifts the whole section into something else that you can feel in your heart. This is what I was going for. I think it's amazing that we can have emotional reactions to skate videos, and that skate videos can contain real life and real things. I want them to contain real things that we go through in life and how we as skateboarders deal with the everyday.
Is there a distinction for you between skating and other artwork? Pontus: Well I don't like to draw a line and say this side of skateboarding is art and this side of it is just skateboarding or to say this film/photo/drawing is a piece of art and this is not. I just don't really think about what is art and what is not. I really don't care. I just do the things I feel like and express myself with different instruments, not caring if the final result is a piece of art or not. Skateboarding can be seen as an art form, but some people might just see it as a toy.
How long have you been a professional skateboarder? Pontus: I've been sponsored since I was fourteen and I turned pro when I was nineteen. I was done with school and was supposed to move to California to live the pro life ... It was a dream since I was a little kid ... but I never thought that it would be possible for me to make it. Living and growing up in a town in Sweden it felt impossible. After my father died and my life was not really going anywhere, I told myself that I would take skateboarding seriously and try to do something with it. But now, looking back at it all, the dream and the images were much better in my imagination. Sure, it was great to travel and all that but being in the industry, dealing with sponsors, video deadlines, magazine coverage etc., really killed all the joy and love skateboarding once gave me.
Strongest of the Strange is dedicated to your father, Torsten. How did he die? Pontus: He died from a very rare muscle disease.
Was it something that had affected him his whole life? Pontus: No, the sickness just showed up one day and ate him alive in three or four months. But it had to do with all the shit he went through earlier in life: experimenting with drugs, making his own drugs, being a paranoid schizophrenic, etc. I might go deeper into his life in the next movie.
How old were you when he got sick? Pontus: I was ten. I lived with him the last months, alone and helping him out. I watched him die. It was gnarly and super fucked-up to be taking care of your father at that age. We had people coming to our home during the day to give him his medicine, but after that I took care of him. He refused to die in the hospital. He wanted to die at home ... The thing that fucked me up for the rest of my life is that I had to live with him through all of this and see it all at the age of ten. I lived with him for four years alone, my mum and him split up when I was six. After that I was with my dad. He was the best and the worst. He put me through some super gnarly stuff but at the same time he showed me some of the beauty in life.
A Scott Bourne video part is sort of a rare thing, did you seek him out? Pontus: No, everything in the video just happened by itself, nothing was planned. I was invited to go to Mongolia on a skate trip and I met Scott for the first time, though we knew of each other from magazines and the [San Francisco] days. We came up about the same time so we had a lot to talk about. We got along straight away and had similar visions about life and skateboarding. I told him about my movie and he told me that he was sitting on 5 years worth of footage that he was looking for a home for. He believed in me.
The city tore down Savannah Side, is Steppe Side sanctioned, or you think you'll get hassled again? Pontus: It's ok with the people that own the ground, but just until they are ready to build something there, then we are out. But the city doesn't care. we don't bother anyone. I don't understand why more cities don't get behind homegrown skateparks. Self-governing, cleans up the area, pretty to look at, fun for all... What's funny is that we managed to talk to the owners and explain our situation and they were cool with the bowl but said that we needed to get rid of the junkies; the city was forcing them to clean up their land. The owners called the cleaning company, they came with bulldozers and the police came and made all the junkies leave. I thought, yes, we made it, even if it sucked for all the people that had been living there for seven years. But instead of the city or the owners bulldozing our bowl a junkie went nuts and broke half of it with a huge hammer and told me that we all back stabbed them. They were after me, throwing rocks, it was super sketchy. I am the man behind the bowl and I was the guy taking care of it; being out there fighting for it. None of the other locals came out to support it and that really bummed me out. I started it and build a lot of it myself. I stole the concrete. This bowl was my life and I was ready to fight for it. We learned a lesson when Savanna Side got bulldozed out of the blue, so this time I had to save it or at least do everything I could to try and save it. After the guy had fucked up the bowl with a hammer I was watching the bowl. While I stood there a bottle with gas came flying over the fence and started a fire. All this is going to be in my next video.
You show your junk quite a few times in the film, was that planned or just something that happened along the way? Pontus: I read a complaint about it in a review in Transworld Skateboarding, and got to thinking about how, in America, if a penis is shown there needs to be an immediate justification as to why.
Does that make any sense? Pontus: It's funny, America bombs other countries and that seems like a normal thing to do but when they see a man's penis they don't know what to do. For me it was just an period in my life when I felt like I had to break free and just do things that I wouldn't normally do. I broke some of my own frames and now I feel more free to do whatever the hell I want, no matter what anyone thinks of it. I can't say it is good or bad, it's just about breaking frames and experimenting with peoples reactions to things.
How can people find Strongest of the Strange? Pontus: It's out there. If you want to see it, hunt it down. Try EBay or talk to people in Europe. Good luck.
A la recherche de ma petite dose quotidienne de skateboard, je suis tombé presque par hasard sur une vidéo pour le moins peu commune. La dernière production Krooked, intitulée « Naugty » ou vilain en français, pour les moins bilingues d'entre nous. Titre évocateur ? On pourrait penser à ce fameux cliché du skateur rebelle, sale, voyou et par conséquent considéré comme un vilain garçon dans une société aseptisée à l'extrême.
Quoi qu'il en soit ce petit film sorti l'année dernière est loin des super productions récentes, développées à grands coups de caméras HD, de tournées promotionnelles aux quatre coins du monde et autres avant premières grand luxe. Non, ici il s'agissait plutôt de faire du skateboard. Tous les skateurs de la marque apparaissent, En passant par les illustres Mark Gonzales et Van Wastell, les petits nouveaux comme Mike Anderson et Brad Cromer sans oublier les valeurs sures telles que Bobby Worrest ou Dan Drehobl. Il n'y a apparemment pas de montage en particulier, seulement une suite de tricks qui ressemblent d'ailleurs plus à une gigantesque ballade en ville montée sur quatre roues. La musique est bonne et entrainante, tout est filmé au numérique avec de vieux fish eye de genre « cul de bouteille » ce qui donne à la vidéo un aspect crade mais authentique et qui rappelle bien sur à tous les premières vidéos réalisées entre copains au bout de la rue. Ce ne sont peut être pas les plus gros, longs tricks du monde mais c'est de l'amitié, du voyage, des sessions ... Cette vidéo est chargée de la véritable essence du skateboard : le plaisir avant tout.
Après l'avoir visionnée, je me suis rendu compte à quel points nous nous perdions parfois en chemin. Même si nous, passionnés de skateboard, formons une sorte de microcosme avec nos propres modes, notre vocabulaire bien à nous et nos petites règles, il est important de se rappeler que tout ça ne reste qu'un jeu, un moyen de s'exprimer et de sentir libre en envisageant de créer quelque chose de différent. Et aussi sérieux qu'il puisse paraître, c'est ça le skateboard pour moi, du plaisir, de l'imagination et de la création en permanence.